Published: Tue, December 05, 2017
Global Media | By Garry Long

Voyager 1 Fires Dormant Thrusters for the First Time in 37 Years

Voyager 1 Fires Dormant Thrusters for the First Time in 37 Years

Nasa had grown anxious about the altitude control thrusters on Voyager 1, which have been wearing down.

NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft has fired a set of four control thrusters for the first time in 37 years, giving the long-lived probe a new way to point itself on its cruise into interstellar space 13 billion miles from Earth.

While the ACMs work, since 2014 they've use more fuel than in the past.

Traveling at nearly 40,000 miles per hour, Voyager 1 is one of the fastest things we've ever put into space.

The JPL's engineers began to look into alternatives, and found a new way to steer the spacecraft: the probe's trajectory correction maneuver (TCM) thrusters.

"The Voyager flight team dug up decades-old data and examined the software that was coded in an outdated assembler language, to make sure we could safely test the thrusters".

So NASA's plan B was to fire up its four back-up thrusters, on the rear of Voyager 1, for the first time since 1980.

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Voyager 1's primary thrusters have been degrading in the last few years, NASA said in a statement. And late the next day - after a 38-hour radio round trip - they learned that they worked and did the job just as well as the ACMS.

NASA will switch over to using the backup TCM thrusters in January and hopes they'll help extend the functional life of the spacecraft by two or three years. She added that the Voyager team is so chuffed with the result, they may test the TCMs on Voyager 2, too, even though its ACMs continued to perform well.

They wanted to reposition Voyager 1, which, at 21 billion kilometres away is the space agency's most far-flung spaceship. Back then, the TCM thrusters were used in a more continuous firing mode; they had never been used in the brief bursts necessary to orient the spacecraft.

After sending the commands on Tuesday, it took 19 hours and 35 minutes for the signal to reach Voyager.

"The Voyager team got more excited each time with each milestone in the thruster test". When there is no longer enough power to operate the heaters, the team will switch back to the attitude control thrusters.

Scientists expect Voyager 2 to make the crossing into interstellar space within a few years, heading in a different direction from the sun.

The JPL will also test out the TCM thrusters on Voyager 1's twin, Voyager 2, although NASA says that that spacecraft's attitude control thrusters are in better shape. The Voyager missions are a part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

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